9 October 2004 | The Hollywood Reporter - Movie News | See recent The Hollywood Reporter - Movie News news »
Opened April 9 in U.K.
LONDON -- A great joke is recycled to very funny effect at the start of this engaging zombie movie spoof. In 1979's "Love at First Bite", George Hamilton, fetched up in full Dracula regalia, wanders the streets of nighttime Manhattan to the complete and utter disregard of the locals. Here, agreeable slacker Shaun (Simon Pegg) drifts through his North London neighborhood after the pubs close at night, completely oblivious to the fact that he's strolling among the living dead.
Outside of the slick Richard Curtis school of Hugh Grant humor and television's "The Office", British comedy is in dire straits these days. So Pegg, who co-scripted this clever and well-crafted movie, is a major find.
There are certainly touches that only the homegrown crowd will get, but there's sufficient energy and scattershot horror movie references that it should please fans of gross-out humor everywhere.
Shaun is a no-hoper, content with his job at an electronics store and nights at the Winchester Pub with girlfriend Liz (Kate Ashfield) and best mate Ed (Nick Frost). He's good with promises, however, even if he forgets to book a table for a romantic dinner with Liz and overlooks his mum's birthday.
But when the streets of London do begin to crowd with bloody and sometimes limbless zombies, Shaun is quick to act. Learning from the television news that only removing the head or brain will render a zombie harmless, he sets off with cricket bat in hand to rescue all his loved ones. Ed trundles along with a shovel. But being the tiresome staple of British comedy, the fat stupid friend, it's his job to prang the car, make too much noise and generally put everyone in harm's way.
Pegg and co-writer/director Edgar Wright keep their eyes firmly on the ball to follow the absurd logic of a genuine zombie film so that it becomes essential to gather a small crowd in a place that can be defended. Inevitably, that means the Winchester Pub. The setting offers Shaun and Ed lots of means in which to combine two key goals: killing zombies and drinking beer.
There are clever gags along the way, including a very nice bit with Bill Nighy ("Love Actually") as Shaun's stepfather, who's been bitten by a zombie. "It's all right", he says confidently. "I ran it under the cold tap".
In a very funny sequence, Shaun and Ed try whipping vinyl record albums at the walking corpses, prompting a discussion of what albums can be sacrificed, such as the soundtrack to "Batman".
One of the problems of recent British comedies has been that they run out of steam early. This one gains pace pleasingly and unsentimentally adheres to the horror film convention of losing popular characters along the way. "It's been a funny sort of day, hasn't it?" says Shaun's mum just before she succumbs to a zombie's bite.
It's worth sticking around for the coda too as it contains some hilarious and very politically incorrect suggestions as to how zombies might be put to work once they've been tamed.
SHAUN OF THE DEAD
United International Pictures
Universal Pictures, Studio Canal and Working Title Films present a WT2 production in association with Big Talk Prods.
Director: Edgar Wright
Screenwriters: Simon Pegg, Edgar Wright
Director of photography: David M. Dunlap
Production designer: Marcus Rowland
Costume designer: Anne Hardinge
Music: Daniel Mudford
Editor: Chris Dickens
Shaun: Simon Pegg
Liz: Kate Ashfield
Ed: Nick Frost
Dianne: Lucy Davis
David: Dylan Moran
Barbara: Penelope Wilton
Philip: Bill Nighy
Running time -- 99 minutes
MPAA rating: R
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